Imperfect downtown parklets pioneers the
pedestrian-friendly community

Jingyi Wang, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Looking through his windows, Farid frowned and shaked his head. “The parklet is no good for me, because I am losing customers. There is no room for parking,” he complained.

Farid is the owner of the Golden Eagle Dry Cleanser on 613 South Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. He is upset that to enrich the street life, two parking spaces right in front of his business were turned into a public parklet last February.

Equipped with tall table, high-level stools, custom-made swing chairs and two stationary bicycles, the parklet is known as the “communal parklet”. Adjacent businesses include Syrup Desserts and a grocery called Market on Spring.

About 350 feet away, there is another one lies in front of LA Café and is named the “active parklet”. With a foosball table and bench seating, as well as the same swing chairs and stationary bicycles, this parklet creates the atmosphere of a park and playground.

“ It looks more community-centered, so in a positive way, it brings more people to our restaurant,” said Amanda Perez, working in LA Café.

Even so, LA Café is concerned that the loss of parking spaces will hurt the business. “Parklets will take away the meters and the meters end up to be cheaper and you don’t need to pay for that much time,” Perez said.

“There are some people don’t like parklets, because they are absolutely tied to parking places. They are the people who just don’t see the change of downtown,” said Petti Berman, the president of Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC).

Berman said that downtown is evolving into a car-free and pedestrian-friendly area. Parklet “improves foot traffic, makes it more palatable for people to walk on the streets. And we need that,” she added.

According to the Parklet Assessment Report conducted by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs,the parklets do help gather people together, especially during weekends.

“It’s not taking that much spaces. To me it’s more important than a parking space,” said Seja Bou, who has been working in LA fashion district for 20 years. Many downtown visitors also give mild response to the public parklets.

“But I personally wouldn’t sit on that,” a visitor said, pointing to the cushions on the benches. Within one year, the cushions have been full of food stains and cigarette burns.

There were no vacant outdoor tables and chairs of LA Café. Two customers just leaned against the fence of the parklet waiting for their order, instead of sitting on the empty benches.

“The cushions. Oh my, oh…” Berman could not resist frowning when talking about the cushions, “we were told that was absolute best fabric for outdoors. It’s tough. It’s good to clean. Ugh…”

“Change the fabric, so it gonna be clean easier. It looks pretty ugly actually” Bou advised.

Berman agreed it is the time. “I’m going to find someone who wants to sponsor,” she said.

Three people sat on the high-level stools with an armful of food. “Look at what we’ve given these people, they went to the farmers market, they got food and they came here to eat,” Berman said.

But when they finished, a mess of scraps was left on the tall table.

Cigarette butts, beverage bottle caps, apple cores and other wastes are all over in the planter boxes.

“There’s no one who’s really in charge of cleaning it, which I think is a problem,” Berman said. “We are learning. We’re learning what’s the needs there are in addition to the ones we thought we had,” she added.

Lucille P. Forster has lived in downtown for years. She said five years ago the Spring Street was empty and occupied by homeless, now the street has totally changed. As a part of the changes happened in downtown, the parklets give her and her dogs a place to rest and relax.

“It’s convenient. It’s a park. You can sit and enjoy your coffee. I wish they can have stands like this more,” said Bou.

Petti Berman said “the next step is to put the parklets in conjunction with other things. Maybe with a bus stop, where you have bench with that or other things available, (which) definitely around eating establishments,” so that pedestrians can take their food outside and eat at the parklet.

The City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has launched a program called People Street, where eligible Community Partners can apply for approval of building parklets. By providing detailed specifications and documents, LADOT help the government corporate with grassroots’ efforts to “improve the quality of life in Los Angeles.”

Due to the limited space, Berman didn’t think more parklets would be built in the Historic Core. “But in downtown area, there’s a lot of places and other areas are looking into it. They are not necessarily and exactly like this,” she said.